Last week the leader of the Labour party, Ed Miliband, met with over 200 residents of Brighton and Hove as part of his comprehensive policy review.
The event took place in Hove Town Hall on Friday 14 January on the morning after the by-election in Oldham East and Saddleworth which was hugely successful for Labour. The by-election was won by the Labour candidate, Debbie Abrahams, who received a majority of over 3,500 votes. The Conservative vote dramatically fell by 7,000.
Miliband told those present in Hove Town Hall that the result had sent a “very clear message” to the coalition. He said this was: “the first major verdict of this Conservative-led government.
“What the people of Oldham East and Saddleworth were saying was that when it came to the rise in VAT, when it came to the trebling of tuition fees, when it came to the police cuts this Conservative-led government should think again.”
However, he promised not to gloat over Labour’s victory and acknowledged that it was just the “first step of the road for the Labour Party to win back trust.”
The meeting in Hove was part of a series of events across the country aimed at understanding why the public had lost confidence in Labour following up to the 2010 general election.
A variety of people with different political persuasions attended. They were able to ask Miliband questions in a BBC Question Time format.
Labour Councillor Gill Mitchell, leader of the opposition in Brighton and Hove City Council, opened the event. After defending Labour’s record in government, both nationally and on a local level, she said that by contributing to the policy review people would be able to decide “where we as a city and as a country want to be.”
A range of issues were raised during the event that at times turned into controversial debates between members of the audience.
The first question was on green-house emissions, which was followed by several concerned citizens commenting on how the public sector cuts were specifically affecting them and their city.
Miliband promised to meet with one local council worker, who was concerned with the increasing demonisation of benefit claimants and the government’s plans for welfare, so as to understand her work with people in need of benefits.
Opinions over the NHS were polarised. Miliband criticised the Health Secretary’s reorganisation of the institution but admitted that some reform was needed, particularly in regards to the number of available staff in hospitals.
After the event, Miliband met with a woman to receive a copy of the Bliss Baby Report that she had brought for him in order to bring to his attention the understaffing of neonatal units across Britain.
One GP from Brighton and Hove council suggested that it is time to downscale the NHS, which provoked a fierce reaction from the other people present.
In response, Miliband stated that the NHS “expresses something incredibly important about our society and it is very important that we defend it.”
Someone else stated that Labour’s mistake was when it did not set about dismantling Thatcherism when they came to office in 1997.
Miliband conceded that the recent financial crisis we have experienced should have alerted society to “the dangers of unrestrained free markets” but that he did not agree with suggestions to nationalise water and gas companies.
As the crowds filed out, Miliband told the Badger that he was glad that a reporter from a university newspaper was able to come and when a student commented on the police tactics employed at the demonstrations towards the end of last year he agreed that people’s right to peaceful protest should be defended.
Those who attended were given consultation booklets so that they could tell Labour what their priorities for the country are and to put forward “fresh ideas” for the party.
As well as having created a website to allow the public to take part in the policy review, Ed Miliband has also lowered the price of joining the Labour Party for people aged under-27 to 1p in a bid to attract young people disillusioned with the coalition.